Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher



December 2013



Mary’s Song and the Good News of Jesus Christ

Written by , Posted in Music, Spirituality, Theology

One of my all-time favorite Advent meditations was published by Scot McKnight in the November 2006 issue of Christianity Today. The article, titled “The Mary We Never Knew,” shows how Mary interpreted the coming of Christ as evidenced in her famous song, the Magnificat:

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors (Luke 1:50-55, NIV84).

Mary understood that Jesus was a threat to the Roman empire and the false gospel of the Pax Romana. Through his perfect life, atoning death and victorious resurrection Jesus would usher in a kingdom of true peace and true justice. It was Jesus versus Caesar–and Jesus would win. This was good news, especially for the poor and oppressed. It still is.

McKnight notes that Mary’s knowledge of her son’s identity and mission made her far more interesting than the iconic Blessed Virgin of Catholicism or the simplistically pious, obedient teenager of much of Protestantism:

Mary was a subversive and she was dangerous, first, because she knew the identity of her son and, second, because she began to tell his story. Remember, Gabriel told Mary her son would be “Jesus” (Savior) and “Son of the Most High God” and that he would sit as a Davidic king on the eternal throne. At the bottom of the entire history of Christology are the titles and categories given to Mary to pass on to others. God first tells her the true identity of Jesus. Thus, we first learn to see who Jesus was and is through her witness. Mary was the only person in the world who could have told the stories that now appear in our Gospels. She alone heard the potent words of Gabriel; she alone was with Elizabeth; perhaps she is the one who told Luke about Zechariah’s song; only she and Joseph knew about the shepherds and the magi.

Mary was, first and foremost, an evangelist. And the message she was announcing through song was embodied–literally–in the messiah she was carrying in her womb. The role-reversing, kingdom-smashing, sin-crushing shalom Jesus was bringing would be infinitely superior to the earthly pax of any oppressive human empire. You should read McKnight’s entire article.

I think Mary would have appreciated the modern Christmas hymn “O Holy Night,” especially the third verse. You may not be familiar with the third verse because we hardly ever sing it, but I think it is a fitting complement to the Magnificat:

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

This Advent season, let us proclaim his power and glory ever more. The King has come and is coming. In his name all oppression shall cease, whether the spiritual oppression of personal sin or the structural oppression of corporate sin. This is the best news in a world of bad news. Mary understood this in ways that we sometimes overlook. Let’s remember her gospel message as we sing our own Advent songs over the next few days.